Your Arterial Lifeline
Are you at risk for hidden complications of atherosclerosis?
Diseases Caused by Atherosclerosis: Beyond the Heart continued...
Blockages to both kidneys' arteries can also cause blood pressure to go
sky-high, in a condition called renal artery stenosis.
"Atherosclerosis in the renal arteries can be important and is most
likely underdiagnosed," says Silverman. "When these vessels are also
pounded by high blood pressure, the effects of atherosclerosis are
Tiny arteries carry blood to the nerves of the eye. If an atherosclerotic
plaque breaks off and blocks the central retinal artery, an "eye
stroke" results, causing blindness in one eye.
Your Sex Organs
Men need strong blood flow into the penis to get and maintain firm
erections. Arteries in the penis can get damaged by atherosclerosis, too, and
can't deliver the necessary blood flow. Erectile dysfunction can
It's a common problem: up to 39% of 40-year-old men report some degree of
erectile dysfunction, and two-thirds of men over 70 have significant symptoms.
Atherosclerosis is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction.
Your Digestive System
Atherosclerosis can narrow the arteries that supply blood to the intestines.
The result can be mesenteric ischemia: belly pain after eating, when the
body tries to ramp up blood supply to the gut, but can't.
"Mesenteric ischemia is actually quite uncommon, although it can
occasionally be mistaken for indigestion," according to Silverman.
The aorta is the main pipeline of blood from the heart to the body. A
swollen, weak patch of this muscular artery is called an aortic
aneurysm. These aneurysms frequently form in the abdominal aorta.
Atherosclerosis is often present in these dangerous outpouchings, which can
rupture and cause life-threatening bleeding.
Of course, there are also the "big three" complications of
atherosclerosis, caused by blockages in the heart, brain, or legs:
- Coronary artery disease (heart)
- Stroke (brain)
- Peripheral arterial disease (legs)
Together, these diseases are responsible for the vast majority of
The coronary arteries run along the surface of the heart, delivering vital
blood flow. Atherosclerotic plaques can slowly choke them off, resulting in
coronary artery disease.
The most common symptom of coronary artery disease? According to Silverman,
it's having no symptoms at all. Some people will experience angina
(chest discomfort, often with exertion).